Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ickworth House-Below Stairs

On Good Friday I was telling again at Ickworth House in Suffolk. Its the third time I have told there and normally I wouldn't have written about it again, except that due to the poor weather I was forced to tell in an area where the public don't normally get to go. An area which for me is far more interesting than the main house.

I was put down in the servants tunnel that runs the full length of the building with stairs going up at certain points so that maids and footmen etc could suddenly appear as if by magic and very conveniently for the local posh types and also disappear as quickly from view when not needed! My photos taken from a mobile phone do not do this great tunnel justice, but it is vast and apparently the servants nicknamed it the 'bakerloo line' because of its resemblance to the London underground tunnel!

A very blurry 'bakerloo line'!
Click on images to make bigger

Also coming off the tunnel are various storage rooms and many of the servants quarters including their dining room which I have to say with the heating range, rows of oak tables and benches feels very warm and convivial, although there are still a row of bells fixed just outside this room, which lead to the upper house. Fixed there to ensure that the servants didn't get too relaxed!

Entrance off the servants tunnel to one of the storage rooms

Inside the storage room

For me these rooms are far more interesting than the frilly, overblown and very uncomfortable spaces above stairs. although that's probably in part because many of my mothers family were in service. Her mother and father, my grandmother and grandfather both worked for a family out in the wilds of west Norfolk and prior to the great war they were supposed to go with the family to India. I think that it was a time when many of these families realised that the old traditional cap doffing days were on their way out over here. Thankfully for me my grandmother's mother wouldn't let her go, and if she had I would of course not be here!

The servants dining room

More of the servants dining room showing original tables and benches

The range in the servants dining room

The bells outside the servants dining room

More bells to keep the servants in their place!

I don't think that I would would have enjoyed being a servant in a house like Ickworth, bowing and scraping to others who were no better then me. But then again given the choice between the servants quarters and the rest of Ickworth house I know where I would have been. My pictures don't do it justice, but just imagine long ago at some Edwardian house party...

Above all was dull and formal. Refined with civility being the order of the day (At least in public anyway) But below stairs all would have been hustle and bustle. There were the house servants and also the maids and valets etc. brought along to serve their masters and mistresses every whim. The servants I think would have been kept very busy, but probably having a better time of it below ground, gossiping and singing and generally having a good laugh when time allowed!

That's why I like the 'bakerloo line' so much and soon every one will, for there are plans to renovate many of the servants rooms and open them up to the public. I know where I'll be!

Thanks again to Claire and all the volunteers at Ickworth.